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List Of Contents | Contents of The Borgias, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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he heard at San Teranza that his vanguard, commanded by Marechal de
Gie, and composed of six hundred lances and fifteen hundred Swiss,
when it arrived at Fornova had come face to face with the
confederates, who had encamped at Guiarole.  The marechal had ordered
an instant halt, and he too had pitched his tents, utilising for his
defence the natural advantages of the hilly ground.  When these first
measures had been taken, he sent out, first, a herald to the enemy's
camp to ask from Francesco di Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua,
generalissimo of the confederate troops, a passage for his king's
army and provisions at a reasonable price; and secondly, he
despatched a courier to Charles VIII, pressing him to hurry on his
march with the artillery and rearguard.  The confederates had given
an evasive answer, for they were pondering whether they ought to
jeopardise the whole Italian force in a single combat, and, putting
all to the hazard, attempt to annihilate the King of France and his
army together, so overwhelming the conqueror in the ruins of his
ambition.  The messenger found Charles busy superintending the
passage of the last of his cannon over the mountain of Pontremoli.
This was no easy matter, seeing that there was no sort of track, and
the guns had to be lifted up and lowered by main farce, and each
piece needed the arms of as many as two hundred men.  At last, when
all the artillery had arrived without accident on the other side of
the Apennines, Charles started in hot haste for Fornovd, where he
arrived with all his following on the morning of the next day.

>From the top of the mountain where the Marechai de Gie had pitched
his tents, the king beheld both his own camp and the enemy's.  Both
were on the right bank of the Taro, and were at either end of a
semicircular chain of hills resembling an amphitheatre; and the space
between the two camps, a vast basin filled during the winter floods
by the torrent which now only marked its boundary, was nothing but a
plain covered with gravel, where all manoeuvres must be equally
difficult for horse and infantry.  Besides, on the western slope of
the hills there was a little wood which extended from the enemy's
army to the French, and was in the possession of the Stradiotes, who,
by help of its cover, had already engaged in several skirmishes with
the French troops during the two days of halt while they were waiting
for the king.

The situation was not reassuring.  From the top of the mountain which
overlooked Fornovo, one could get a view, as we said before, of the
two camps, and could easily calculate the numerical difference
between them.  The French army, weakened by the establishment of
garrisons in the various towns and fortresses they had won in Italy,
were scarcely eight thousand strong, while the combined forces of
Milan and Venice exceeded a total of thirty-five thousand.  So
Charles decided to try once more the methods of conciliation, and
sent Commines, who, as we know, had joined him in Tuscany, to the
Venetian 'proveditori', whose acquaintance he had made when on his
embassy; he having made a great impression on these men, thanks to a
general high opinion of his merits.  He was commissioned to tell the
enemy's generals, in the name of the King of France, that his master
only desired to continue his road without doing or receiving any
harm; that therefore he asked to be allowed a free passage across the
fair plains of Lombardy, which he could see from the heights where he
now stood, stretching as far as the eye could reach, away to the foot
of the Alps.  Commines found the confederate army deep in discussion:
the wish of the Milanese and Venetian party being to let the king go
by, and not attack him; they said they were only too happy that he
should leave Italy in this way, without causing any further harm; but
the ambassadors of Spain and Germany took quite another view.  As
their masters had no troops in the army, and as all the money they
had promised was already paid, they must be the gainer in either case
from a battle, whichever way it went: if they won the day they would
gather the fruits of victory, and if they lost they would experience
nothing of the evils of defeat.  This want of unanimity was the
reason why the answer to Commines was deferred until the following
day, and why it was settled that on the next day he should hold
another conference with a plenipotentiary to be appointed in the
course of that night.  The place of this conference was to be between
the two armies.

The king passed the night in great uneasiness.  All day the weather
had threatened to turn to rain, and we have already said how rapidly
the Taro could swell; the river, fordable to-day, might from tomorrow
onwards prove an insurmountable obstacle; and possibly the delay had
only been asked for with a view to putting the French army in a worse
position.  As a fact the night had scarcely come when a terrible
storm arose, and so long as darkness lasted, great rumblings were
heard in the Apennines, and the sky was brilliant with lightning.  At
break of day, however, it seemed to be getting a little calmer,
though the Taro, only a streamlet the day before, had become a
torrent by this time, and was rapidly rising.  So at six in the
morning, the king, ready armed and on horseback, summoned Commines
and bade him make his way to the rendezvous that the Venetian
'proveditori' had assigned.  But scarcely had he contrived to give
the order when loud cries were heard coming from the extreme right of
the French army.  The Stradiotes, under cover of the wood stretching
between the two camps, had surprised an outpost, and first cutting
the soldiers' throats, were carrying off their heads in their usual
way at the saddle-bow.  A detachment of cavalry was sent in pursuit;
but, like wild animals, they had retreated to their lair in the
woods, and there disappeared.

This unexpected engagement, in all probability arranged beforehand by
the Spanish and German envoys, produced on the whole army the effect
of a spark applied to a train of gunpowder.  Commines and the
Venetian 'proveditori' each tried in vain to arrest the combat an
either side.  Light troops, eager for a skirmish, and, in the usual
fashion of those days, prompted only by that personal courage which
led them on to danger, had already come to blows, rushing down into
the plain as though it were an amphitheatre where they might make a
fine display of arms.  Far a moment the young king, drawn on by
example, was an the point of forgetting the responsibility of a
general in his zeal as a soldier; but this first impulse was checked
by Marechal de Gie, Messire Claude de la Chatre de Guise, and M. de
la Trimauille, who persuaded Charles to adopt the wiser plan, and to
cross the Taro without seeking a battle,--at the same time without
trying to avoid it, should the enemy cross the river from their camp
and attempt to block his passage.  The king accordingly, following
the advice of his wisest and bravest captains, thus arranged his
divisions.

The first comprised the van and a body of troops whose duty it was to
support them.  The van consisted of three hundred and fifty men-at-
arms, the best and bravest of the army, under the command of Marechal
de Gie and Jacques Trivulce; the corps following them consisted of
three thousand Swiss, under the command of Engelbert der Cleves and
de Larnay, the queen's grand equerry; next came three hundred archers
of the guard, whom the king had sent to help the cavalry by fighting
in the spaces between them.

The second division, commanded by the king in person and forming the
middle of the army, was composed of the artillery, under Jean de
Lagrange, a hundred gentlemen of the guard with Gilles Carrone far
standard-bearer, pensioners of the king's household under Aymar de
Prie, some Scots, and two hundred cross-bowmen an horseback, with
French archers besides, led by M. de Crussol.

Lastly, the third division, i.e. the rear, preceded by six thousand
beasts of burden bearing the baggage, was composed of only three
hundred men-at-arms, commanded by de Guise and by de la Trimouille:
this was the weakest part of the army.

When this arrangement was settled, Charles ordered the van to cross
the river, just at the little town of Fornovo.  This was done at
once, the riders getting wet up to their knees, and the footmen
holding to the horses" tails.  As soon as he saw the last soldiers of
his first division on the opposite bank, he started himself to follow
the same road and cross at the same ford, giving orders to de Guise
and de la Trimouille to regulate the march of the rear guard by that
of the centre, just as he had regulated their march by that of the
van.  His orders were punctually carried out; and about ten o'clock
in the morning the whole French army was on the left bank of the
Taro: at the same time, when it seemed certain from the enemy's
arrangements that battle was imminent, the baggage, led by the
captain, Odet de Reberac, was separated from the rear guard, and
retired to the extreme left.

Now, Francisco de Gonzaga, general-in-chief of the confederate
troops, had modelled his plans on those of the King of France; by his
orders, Count de Cajazzo, with four hundred men-at-arms and two
thousand infantry, had crossed the Taro where the Venetian camp lay,
and was to attack the French van; while Gonzaga himself, following
the right bank as far as Fornovo, would go over the river by the same
ford that Charles had used, with a view to attacking his rear.
Lastly, he had placed the Stradiotes between these two fords, with
orders to cross the river in their turn, so soon as they saw the
French army attacked both in van and in the rear, and to fall upon
its flank.  Not content with offensive measures, Gonzaga had also
made provision for retreat by leaving three reserve corps on the
right bank, one to guard the camp under the instruction of the
Venetian 'provveditori', and the other two arranged in echelon to
support each other, the first commanded by Antonio di Montefeltro,
the second by Annibale Bentivoglio.

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